“Innovative, Offbeat and Downright Bizarre”

“His writing is filled with energy and insane ideas and off-the-wall mystical concepts and the sort of dark lunacy typically associated with Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison’s work for DC / Vertigo.” 

Ben Herman, In My Not So Humble Opinion
Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme Omnibus, by David Quinn, Peter Gross, et al, Volume 3, Marvel, April 2022

Coming April 26

At your friendly neighborhood Local Comic Shop (And every retailer that sells Marvel and Penguin Random House books) later this month, in synchronicity with the theatrical release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the 28th Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, starring an ensemble led by Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and Benedict Wong… this, the third and final omnibus collection of the 1988-1996 series of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s master of the mystic arts.

Over a thousand pages of magic and madness.

Stephen Strange, with his fingertips tracing the multiverse while his shoes wander dirty old Bleecker Street – one of my favorite Marvel characters since the first issue I picked up as a kid in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You know those books you never let go of, even when you move and sell off half of what you’ve collected? (I’ve done that three times since 1974.)

Yeah, this is one of them, for me.

Doctor Strange, Marvel, by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner, 1974

Thank you, Stan Lee and Steves Ditko and Englehart and Frank Brunner!

And this omnibus above will also shelve in the dusty permanent library of my Sanctum Sanctorum, AKA The Temple of Rotting Paper, because it includes a couple dozen of the three dozen or so stories I contributed to the Marvel Comics Universe between 1993 and 1996. As Stan Lee himself once told me, “Hey, I’m my own biggest fan.”

Some of these stories have never been reprinted, and I am grateful to all the classic comics retailers and Doc fans new and old who support the collection with your hard-earned quarters.

Please do check it out!

“As Stan Lee himself once told me, ‘Hey, I’m my own biggest fan.'”

Strange Magick

Recently, I enjoyed a conversation with Kurt Anthony Krug, a Detroit-based journalist in preparation for his Doctor Strange related feature for Current magazine. (Don’t worry, when it’s in print and online I will update this to include a live link.) Kurt was keen to learn a bit about where I came from, how I came to comics and Doctor Strange, and the story behind these stories, and as we got into it, I found I still feel a considerable investment of emotional, visceral, and spiritual energy when I talk about the Doc I knew. Serious fun.

I think these stories work, especially in a long form story medium (think: serial comic books, serial soap operas and other long form television shows, serial movie franchises) and I think I know why.

T. S. Eliot (not a comic book magician, but worth reading anyway) thought that good writing was simply, “The making the familiar strange, and the strange familiar.” Eliot was praising the worth of the poetry of Andrew Marvell when he penned this, but he nailed the secret to good comics, particularly the kind the superhero stores sell every week – work-for-hire stories that ultimately live as chapters in a thousand (or more) chapter narrative owned not by an author, but by a media company.

What else would you call Marvel Comics since Fantastic Four? The MCU since Iron Man? (Star Wars since Joseph Campbell?

Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, Marvel, Art: Johnson/Harper

Writers like change, but radical change breaks the trust, the bond, the secret pact with that audience dedicated / addicted to these kinds of stories. Radical change renders the characters and conflicts we came for into… chaos. So when someone asks, “What would you do if we let you write our characters?” you don’t change the game, so much as turn the game on its head with a spin to offer a look at what everyone expects… a way they don’t expect.

I think Tom Brevoort, one of the best editors I ever worked with in comics, called this “the illusion of change” in his advice to creators. There’s a reason that Tom’s been trusted with the pieces on the game board since (I’m guessing) Janet Jackson had the number one song on the charts and your standard floppy comic cost a buck.

This is the strange magick, the illusion of innovation, the creative spin I shot for.

Despite a post-Faust rep for bizarre and dangerous, when invited to, I pitched Marvel consciously focused on telling Doctor Strange mega story that called back his very essential primal origin – a genius whose arrogance costs him everything he values, then risks his life and his world, humbly accepting the magick of the all creation to stand up on his own two feet again, renewed. Since Ditko and Lee, Doctor Strange may fight the Big Bad in funky colorful costume… but his true conflict is ever within himself.

Personality Crisis

So, my Doctor Strange – no longer Sorcerer Supreme – defends his Mansion from demons from another dimension, creating a “stasis spiral” that stops time long enough for him to disappear. As time resumes, we learn that his Sanctum has fallen, his allies have become enemies and a prehistoric mage called Salome has come to our dimension to claim her former mantle, Sorcerer Supreme. Soon, we will see that Stephen Strange has created a null space, a new extra dimensional Dark Sanctum, if you will, where he can heal his wounds and recover to fight again. But not before he has found a new source of magick… for he has been infected by “Salome’s Dance.” If he leaves the null space and re-enters his homeward, he will disintegrate.

And that was just the first chapter.

Doctor Strange, Marvel, Art: Max Douglas

In the moments (comic book issues) that follow, Earth is infiltrated by two strange beings. The first, a faceless powerhouse calling itself Strange, wreaks havoc, using forceful magick to find and capture mystic artifacts, clashing with superpowers like Namor the Sub-Mariner, the X-Men and Doctor Doom. The second force to be reckoned with beguiles and manipulates the globes social and business markets, throwing lavish parties for his fellow elites. We soon realize that this latter character is Dr. Vincent Stephens, the man Doctor Strange would be if he hadn’t ruined his hands in his famous origin story, sought the Ancient One for a quick fix, and tempered magic power with human empathy. The other mysterious nemesis, Strange, is the nightmare that Doctor Strange would become if he ever lost his humanity.

Yes, in the moment he stopped time, Stephen Strange created two aetheric spells to do his work for him while he hid “underground.”

Doctor Strange, Marvel, Art: Peter Gross
Doctor Strange, Marvel, Original Art: Gene Colan

Integrity Crisis

This was a new perspective from which we could look at our hero, even though long-time readers caught that the look of Strange was a visual echo of the masked version of his costume favored for a while in the issues by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan.

And this was not the only change that was actually “the illusion of change.” Even with pyrotechnical battles around the globe, even with a mad woman rattling human skull jewelry screaming she’s here to destroy Stephen Strange, the real conflict at the heart was within Doctor Strange’s soul itself. For he’s unaware, or unwilling to see, that the two Strangers gradually become independent entities, fighting tenaciously to life. (Like Pinocchio, they want to be real boys.) Despite his boastful vow to no longer treat “those who trusted me like mere chess pawns,” Doctor Strange is – at first – unwilling to accept the consequences of his creating the Strangers, a blind spot he ultimately faces, and works through in the story called Last Rites.

“This is the strange magick, the illusion of innovation, the creative spin, and despite my rep for the bizarro, I consciously tried to tell a Doctor Strange mega story that called back his very essential primal origin – a genius whose arrogance costs him everything he values, then risks his life and his world, humbly accepting the magick of the all creation to stand up on his own two feet again, renewed. Since Ditko and Lee, Doctor Strange may fight the big bad in a funky colorful costume… but his true conflict is within himself.”

I could say more about Doctor Strange, including notes about a few of my favorite stories in this big book and an idea I keep revisiting that he’s interesting because in most stories, someone with his personality and power would very likely be the villain, not the hero… but you know, this is getting a little long and I have to let it go to you… till next time.

So…

So what do you think?

Are you looking forward to checking out the new collection, or the new movie?

How long have you been a Doctor Strange disciple?

And for your hardcore nerds, don’t you enjoy it when Spider-man and Stephen Strange, two of the most famous oddball heroes from the pencil of Steve Ditko, face off in the comics or the movies?

Keep in touch, be good to each other, give Mom a call on Mother’s Day, that’s all for now!

What is the Anomaly Rue? Established 1963, Named 1993
See ya at the movies or the comic rack, True Believers! (And I love that I caught Eduardo Pug watching the birds, here!)

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